Isolation in Friend Groups And What It Taught Me
I’m out of high school now. But that doesn’t erase any of the memories or loneliness I’ve felt. And that doesn’t mean it goes away in college, either. As I mature, though, I learn some values I don’t think I would have gotten another way. So maybe this was a good thing, in the end? Or maybe I’d just like to believe that, anyway.
I have always been a loner when I was younger. But then, suddenly, I wasn’t (or so I thought). Long story short, friend groups change astronomically in high school. That’s almost a guaranteed, universal experience. Entering high school, I had a great friend group that changed in a matter of weeks, thankfully for the better. Then about a year later, it changed again. Only this time, it got worse, and it never got better. My social anxiety, coupled with my introverted personality and shyness only made this experience hellish, as more people started infiltrating and changing my friend group. Then, suddenly, all my close friends were no longer around. The lovable, academic over-achievers they are, we stopped having lots of classes together and they were never around during lunch, usually off in tutoring, getting extra help, or attending a meeting for some club or society. And there I was, doing my own little thing. Academic as well, but vastly different. Around all these people, all the time. Lonelier than ever. Out of all of it, though, I think I’ve learned a few things that I think are useful for anyone, anywhere in life.
- Don’t take everything so personally, really.
Quickly, I realized that I was not and was never the center of anyone’s attention. Stepping out of the mindset that nothing really revolves around me hurt greatly, but it made me understand others. It felt like no one had time for me, yes, but in reality they didn’t even have time for themselves. They didn’t mean to make me feel isolated and alone, but it was just a consequence of playing a bunch of unlucky cards that made them extremely busy. This realization was my first huge dose of don’t-take-everything-so-personally serum (the world is definitely in a shortage of this one). My friends had all sorts of pressures on them, whether they or someone else put that on them. I needed to recognize just how much that might have eaten them up, just like my loneliness did to me. I needed to realize that I can’t be mad at myself for having my anxiety problems and not knowing how to handle them. We were all just young teens, trying to figure out ourselves.
I understood my friends and saw their situation from a third-person perspective, looking down on all the actions around me and of myself. It didn’t make the hurt and loneliness go away; nothing ever does nor nothing ever can (besides a lot of gradual growth and maturing, probably). What I got from all that mess was reaching a level of maturity I never experienced before. Whether that was a good thing to learn so young, I don’t know. But I learned it nonetheless, and it helps me be more empathetic, kinder, and selfless to others. And I wouldn’t trade those qualities for the world seeing as there’s already such a shortage of it.
2. Being independent isn’t always a good thing.
Yeah, this one’s a weird one. I do consider myself an independent person, but that was when I thought that was the only way to live and be successful. After all, self-reliance is huge, right? We all really only have ourselves, at the end of the day, and while that might be true, what about the rest of day? We’re around people. And we can get help. We deserve to ask others for help. With all the horror going on in the world, the least we can do for ourselves is realize when we need it and have the courage to ask for it. In many cases, you don’t have to prove anything to yourself by making yourself suffer through something that could have been eased with the help of another person.
In high school, I used my independence as a coping mechanism for my loneliness. I thought “Wow, I don’t even need these people who aren’t around. I can take care of myself.” Truth be told, I did a horrible job taking care of myself. I might not have been able to ask my very overworked friends for help, and at times I felt my parent’s could not help, but I certainly did not have to get as self-destructive as I did. My independence was certainly a force in keeping me afloat, but it had a stirring duality that tended to bring down my spirits when I was already feeling low. It’s good to be pampered, sometimes. If you have someone you love and trust enough that can help you, try reaching out. The difference it makes might shock you.
3. Two things can be true.
Two things can be true. I can still be hurt by everything that happened, and still face my very valid loneliness. And my friends can still be good, well-meaning people who never meant to hurt me. I had to learn to acknowledge all my feelings. The good ones that told me they’re trying their best. And the bad ones that told me they didn’t care enough to make time for me. I can be mad at my friends for not trying hard enough in the friendship. And I can be mad at myself for not putting myself out there and trying to talk to other people when they weren’t around. These experiences have created some of my worst memories. But these experiences have also taught me some of my biggest lessons, and I’m lucky to have learned them then under the shelter of my home, family, and peers. Two things can be true, and that’s okay.
4. Friends can be found in anything, anywhere, all the time.
During this time in my life, I just so happened to fall in line with a group of online friends. They were 5 amazing women around my age, from all different parts of the globe. During my lonely lunches, I’d have them to text and laugh with. I knew they’d be there, whether it was to compliment my outfit for the day, hear about my earlier classes, or listen to me complain about someone they don’t even know personally. To this day, these women are some of the strongest, truest bonds I have with anyone. At the time, they felt like angels, like a god send. If it wasn’t for the loneliness I felt at the time, I would never have met some of the best people ever and grown such worldly, enriching relationships.
It brought me closer to them because they listened to me, they gave me the attention and love I so badly need from a group of friends. It gave me confidence that I was still lovable, could overcome my social anxiety, gave me a home to share all my thoughts, taught me the true feeling of being understood, accepted, and not judged by your friends. It felt effortless; no pressure to match their standard, no pressure to respond quickly, no pressure to censor myself. Regardless of the time zone, the platform we used to talk, or their lives outside of our group chats, we always met in the middle to chat about anything and everything.
Now, I have a greater appreciation and veneration for diversity and chance in friendship. I’ve found myself making friends with moms in my college classes, with elderly people who want a pen-pal, and really anyone of any age that has something to share with me. Friendships don’t have to just be the people you are immediately physically close to, or the ones you’ve known the longest, or the ones you feel forced to talk to because of status or surface similarity. It never has been that way, and it took me some time to realize that. Isolation in my “real-life” friend group taught me that friendship is a multifaceted beautiful thing found all around you.
So, looking back, remember:
- Don’t take everything so personally
- Being independent isn’t always a good thing
- Two things can be true. Acknowledge them all.
- Friends can be found in anything, anywhere, all the time.
I never got my friends’ true point of view in any of this, because, frankly, I hid my loneliness quite well. I was always shy and quiet, so it was easy to come off as that when internally I was in tears nearly every day. Facing the loneliness and the grip it had over me resulted in many nights of crying and many mental breakdowns that grew from gruesome combinations of stress, sleep deprivation, worry over my future, and yeah, the loneliness. That stuff’s no joke. The repercussions of that are going to stick with me for a while, but I’ve realized that growth, while anything but a straight line upward, can be a little exponential at times. Right now and since the start of the pandemic, I’ve witnessed myself change, bit by bit, into the person I always wanted to be when I was younger. A little less lonely, but thankfully still here and little wiser. Isn’t that the least anyone can ask of a bad situation?